The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who rarely finds themselves befuddled during the course of an NFL Draft. The 2021 NFL Draft was no different. When the Steelers’ pick came up at No. 24, they wasted little time making their pick.
Alabama RB, Najee Harris.
Immediately, from the moment the pick was made, a ripple effect took place throughout the Steelers organization. Some will benefit from the pick, while others will be on the losing side of the selection.
This is where the winners and losers column comes into play. I go through who could be labeled as ‘winners’ after the pick of Harris, and those who could be labeled ‘losers’.
Let’s get down to it...
Why: This is a no-brainer. Harris wasn’t just a first round pick, but he was the first running back taken in the draft. The pick right after the Steelers at No. 25, the Jacksonville Jaguars, took Travis Etienne, so those who think the Steelers could have waited and gotten their guy, you might have to reconsider this to be truth. Harris will have every opportunity to prove himself, and the hope is the Steelers put him in a position to succeed by committing to the run more. Harris and the Steelers are a great fit.
Why: Klemm takes over the offensive line and he gets a new shiny running back to go with his position group. Sure, the hope is the Steelers will still address the offensive line in the coming rounds, but Klemm getting a quality back will only help improve the running game. By proxy, the team improving the running game will be a positive reflection on Klemm as a coach. A win-win for the first time offensive line coach.
Art Rooney II
Why: AR2 wanted to improve the running game, and you just knew the Steelers were going to make a bold statement. Remember, just because everyone knew the Steelers wanted Harris doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bold statement. This message was sent loud and clear to the organization and the fan base, we want to run the ball better. Rooney has made some significant changes this offseason, now he has to hope they pay off.
Why: When people think about Roethlisberger potentially winning a Super Bowl in the waning years of his career, they compare him to Peyton Manning or John Elway with the Broncos. What did both of those quarterbacks have when they won late in their careers? A running game. The Steelers taking Harris shows the commitment to the running game, and after 2020 you would have to think Roethlisberger isn’t upset with the pick. He should be happy, after all throwing the ball 40+ a week didn’t lead to success.
Zach Banner / Chuks Okorafor
Why: The Steelers could have taken Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins, who wasn’t drafted in the first round, but instead went with the running back. If Jenkins was the pick it would have sent a shot across the bow of Banner and Okorafor. Nonetheless, they leave Day 1 unscathed, will Day 2 be more of the same? Only time will tell...
Why: Mike Tomlin said the team’s scheme wasn’t good last year (insert Randy Fichtner under bus tires). Canada now gets a first round running back, and arguably the best running back in the draft, to help improve this aspect of the Steelers’ offense. If the team is able to find some valuable talent along the offensive line in the coming days, Canada won’t have personnel to blame if the running game falls flat on its face again.
Why: Everyone and their cousin knew the Steelers were interested in Harris, and all the draftnik mock drafters were in love with mocking Harris to the Steelers. Count this as one of the few they got right. While they sit in their mom’s basement at their computer they have to be grinning from ear to ear.
Benny Snell / Jaylen Samuels
Why: As much as Harris being a winner is a no-brainer, Snell and Samuels saw their hopes of having a significant role with the team decrease. In fact, it now is a battle for both of these players to even make the team in 2021. I believe one, but not both, will be on the roster when the regular season rolls around. Who will it be? The better man will out perform the other...should be a good battle.
Other hopeful rookie RBs
Why: Plenty of fans were fans of other running backs in the draft, and players like North Carolina’s Javonte Williams had openly talked about the Steelers as a potential landing spot. That is at thing of the past at this point, and running backs like Williams are still out there wondering which team will take a shot at drafting him on Day 2.
Why: Wait, wasn’t Klemm on the winners list? He was! And he is also on the losers list, but for different reasons. Klemm could have gotten Jenkins, who would have dramatically improved the team’s running game, but the organization went with the ball carrier. All position coaches are going to want their position group to get priority in the draft, in this case Klemm didn’t get what he wanted. This will put more of an emphasis on his coaching in 2021 unless the Steelers can add some serious talent on Days 2 and 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft.